Gen. David H. Petraeus, who commanded U.S. troops in Iraq during the 2007-2008 surge, was back in that country last week for the first time in more than three years. He was attending the annual Sulaimani Forum, a get-together of Iraqi leaders, thinkers and academics, at the American University of Iraq – Sulaimani in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
In his most expansive comments yet on the latest crisis in Iraq and Syria, he answered written questions from The Post’s Liz Sly, offering insights into the mistakes, the prosecution and the prospects of the war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, which he refers to by its Arabic acronym, Daesh.
How does it feel to be back in Iraq after four years away?
Iraq is a country I came to know well and the place where I spent some of the most consequential years of my life. So it has been a bit of an emotional experience to return here after my last visit in December 2011 as director of the CIA. I was very grateful for the chance to be back to see old friends and comrades from the past.
That said, it is impossible to return to Iraq without a keen sense of opportunities lost. These include the mistakes we, the U.S., made here, and likewise the mistakes the Iraqis themselves have made. This includes the squandering of so much of what we and our coalition and Iraqi partners paid such a heavy cost to achieve, the continuing failure of Iraq’s political leaders to solve longstanding political disputes, and the exploitation of these failures by extremists on both sides of the sectarian and ethnic divides.